TALKING TO STRANGERS

TALKING TO STRANGERS

Malcom Gladwell has so impressed the reading world with his analysis of life, that the term “Gladwellian intellectual adventure” has been coined.

But though I confess to not have jumped on his bandwagon before Talking to Strangers, when I saw he had written about Sandra Bland, I had to know his thoughts.

We now go through life with cable news. And then it was July of 2015. I’m white, Black Lives DO Matter, but hearing of a Black woman who had just arrived in Texas for a new job, a new life, had been arrested for a traffic stop, and then hearing just days later, that it was assumed she had hung herself in her jail cell—I was angry, had many questions, that to this day and even beyond this book, have not been answered. Why? Because we are still living in a time when these questions challenge us to give answers we don’t want to face. 

HOW TALKING TO STRANGERS IS ORGANIZED 

Gladwell starts with Sandra and ends with Sandra. In between, he works to reveal the disconnects in society, by exploring, as only he can, history, psychology and the roots of evil in our society. Oh, he wants to come to some conclusion about Sandra, but before that, he explores how often we just don’t have the big picture. Why? Because we ARE often STRANGERS to each other, and that means there are no exact rules to govern human interactions.

He attacks the problem in sections: some being Default to the Truth where he exams in detail the Sandusky (sex with a child) Case. Another being Transparency which includes the Amanda Knox case and a fraternity party sex case.

COUPLING 

But the most interesting section is Coupling,where Gladwell makes the case that often two things that go together are hard to separate. Suicide is often coupled. Suicide and the Golden Gate Bridge; Sylvia Plath and how gas was delivered to  homes before safety measures were introduced; preventive police patrolling in Kansas City, Missouri and the interrogation of Blacks. 

Gladwell concludes the coupling section with this: “There is something about the idea of coupling–of the notion that a stranger’s behavior is tightly connected to place and context–that eludes us. It leads us to misunderstand some of our greatest poets (Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton), to be indifferent to the suicidal, and to send police officers on senseless errands. (Sandra Bland.)

SANDRA BLAND Note: All parenthesis are mine. 

Then Gladwell asks, before the last chapter, when he discusses the Sandra Bland case…

“So what happens when a police officer carries that fundamental misconception– (that people are going to break laws, do wrong, especially if the are Black)–and then you add to that the problems of default to truth and transparency? (That by their very nature, police can make us feel afraid, feel wrong when we are right, liars when we are truth tellers, especially if one is a person of color) YOU GET SANDRA BLAND.”

YES, SADLY. You get that two personalities who view the world differently, should not be thrown together in a tense situation. And, unfortunately, as a reader and a human, we are left with this: “If you are blind to the ideas that underlie our mistakes with strangers—and to the institutions and practices that we construct AROUND those ideas—then all you are left with is the personal…and now Sandra Bland, who—at the end of the lengthy postmortem into that fateful traffic strop…somehow becomes the villain of the story.

READ THIS BOOK. TALKING TO STRANGERS

Original Sketch  artist not listed

4 thoughts on “TALKING TO STRANGERS

  1. I truly believe that a change in our thought process, and the coupling we do without giving it any real thought, can really only be effectively changed if we (among other things) work on the tools we give to the very youngest in our society.

  2. I would so like to believe that these problems, this ‘coupling’ only exists in other countries. That Canada has some sort of enlightened ‘free pass’ in our relationships with strangers. Then we have the glaring truth of the residential school horror and the discovered mass grave of 215 children this week. And I am again reminded that this is a global problem. we are not exempt. The native Americans in Canada are treated with much the same contempt as the marginalised peoples throughout the world.
    The point is, how do we stop what has become such an ingrained problem?
    I agree with Karen. Teach the children…
    Loved this essay, Beth. Thank you!

    • Thanks for reading, Diane. Both of our countries can learn important lessons. But those in power have to drill down to particulars and they rarely do that.

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